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Cabinet to review Spa future

Suffolk Coastal’s Cabinet will look again at its decision to attract proposals for the future use of Felixstowe’s Spa Theatre from local groups or leisure and entertainment companies from across the country.

Following last week’s (January 12) meeting of Suffolk Coastal’s Scrutiny Committee which asked Cabinet to look again at its decision on the Spa’s future and called for the building to remain open until January 2013, Cabinet will discuss what can be done at its February 7 meeting.

“We are spending around £250,000 a year on the Spa, and on top of that it needs at least £3 million to be spent in the next few years to bring the building up to modern standards. At a time when we have a £2.8 million budget gap, the view of Cabinet was that we really cannot afford to make that type of investment or long-term commitment,” said Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Leisure.

“At last week’s meeting it was spelt out by external theatre experts that the Spa will not begin to attract audiences without massive investment in the building and a doubling of its subsidy from Council Taxpayers. That is why we want to find a long-term future for the Spa, whether that be with a new local trust running the building or outside established companies with new proposals.

“Cabinet will of course listen to what Scrutiny said but much of it centred on the issue of timing, on when our contract with its managers should end, a decision that may not even be in our hands, as the meeting heard Openwide Coastal confirm it will not run the theatre if it was losing it money. My view is that we have to take decisions that will deliver a long-term future for the Spa and I hope that in February we can confirm the way forward,” added Cllr Holdcroft. Cont/d…

Following the original Cabinet decision in December, the current managers of the theatre, Openwide Coastal, had said it would run the Spa and its full programme up to the end of June as it would not be economically viable to run it until October as requested.

Two years ago the Council called in consultants to look at the options for the Spa, taking account of the needs of the local community and the requirement for it to be run in a cost-effective way. The full consultants’ report and the other papers presented to Cabinet in December were made public yesterday (Wednesday) on the Council’s website – visit www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourcouncil/meetings/exempt/

Their report concluded that if no major investments are made the Spa will quickly become unfit for purpose and that the building is already out of date. Audiences at the Spa have been falling to a degree that each ticket was being subsidised by the Council by well over £7.

“All our work on the future of the Spa has been put on hold since before Christmas because of the demand to have the Cabinet decision reviewed. We can still not get on with talking with local community groups that have used the Spa to see what help we can give them in the future to find alternative venues if that is necessary.

“We have also not been able to proceed with our investigations into whether a theatre trust like that which has taken over the running of Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre is a way forward or been able to offer help to those who may be interesting in pursing such an option. At the same time, we have had to hold fire on calling for ideas for the Spa from national companies who have the financial clout to put them into effect.

“My original hope was that in June we would have a firmer idea of what the Spa’s future would be, when we would have had the chance to see and consider both the strength of local proposals and also what leisure or entertainment proposals and potential investment outside companies and organisations had come up with. I hope we can announce a new timetable that will still mean that this summer the way forward for the Spa will be much clearer,” added Cllr Holdcroft.

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